Twitter’s a Memory Hole

“…it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.” – George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

This weekend, I opened up my Twitter account and read each message I had posted.

Then I deleted it.

And I kept reading and deleting until Twitter stopped showing me my messages – sometime around October 2009.

I started with more than 7200 ‘tweets’ and according to Twitter, I’ve 6,587 remaining.

Now if you visit /garrickvanburen you won’t see any of them. Seems as though Twitter has decided that anything I’ve written prior to, say, October 2009 is no longer available [1]. But – if my profile says I have 6,587 ‘tweets’ – where are they?

I even searched for them via search.twitter.com;

” Older tweets are temporarily unavailable.”

If they’re not accessible – shouldn’t the number be 0?

I’m completely fine with Twitter being temporary. I think it should be (that’s why I mass deleted them anyway). I don’t think Twitter should be indexed by Google or Bing or any other service. The question is – how long should a give ‘tweet’ be accessible?

Nine months seems as arbitrary as 140 character limit and killing off basic auth in August.

So, how long should a ‘tweet’ live?

If Twitter’s goal is to capture the zeitgeist in real-time, how long does it take for a moment to pass?

5 minutes? 1 hour? 24 hours? 1 beat?

Update 25 June 2010: As of this morning, my Twitter account reads ‘0 tweets’. Makes me feel that Twitter doesn’t see any value in keeping the old stuff around and accessible. Feels very Logan’s Run. Not sure how I feel about this yet.

5 Replies to “Twitter’s a Memory Hole”

  1. I agree Garrick. Twitter doesn’t feel like an archival system to me. Many others (majority?) may disagree with that premise. But, it feels like mass messaging or group instant messaging much more than creating an archive (rich or not).

    You could use my tweet expiration script to do this on a rolling basis.

    I sincerely wish Twitter would just add this as a feature so you could set an expiration period in days for your Tweets. Of course they have no more reason to do that than Google Mail has to actually encourage you to delete email.

    And that is the rub. It’s not to help you (meaning, us, the user) but to help them better advertise at us.

  2. Also, when I tried import all my tweets into WordPress I ran into this same problem of not being able to see my entire archive. A kind person commented on my frustration and it seems you can only get the most recent 3,200 tweets.

    Why 3,200? I have no idea. Twitter should possibly create a Department of Arbitrary Numbers.

    It seems you cannot access those older Tweets. It’s unclear to me if deleting your account removes them.

  3. I think you should buy a shiny new spiral notebook and write Twitter in blue letters on the front. Every time you have a pithy thought, write it on a new page. Then rip this page out and either share it with someone (preferably via US Mail) or throw it in the trash. This technique will not only expand your content capacity beyond the 140 character, but it will also save you the trouble of having to delete tweets.

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